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The King in the Window Paperback – 1 Oct 2006
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Later that night, he stares out of the kitchen window while still wearing the crown and, sarcastically, says that he must be the king in the window. But what he sees next isn't his own reflection, but that of a boy wearing traditional 17th-century French clothes. What happens next is the start of a journey that will lead Oliver all over Paris, and far beyond, as he is caught up in the war of windows and mirrors with his friends Charlie and Neige.
The King in the Window isn't a story that is content with reality as it currently stands; it has a penchant for twisting reality like a cloth being twisted by a pair of hands (and there are a lot of metaphors in this book). It also knows its literary history, as a famous children's book is referenced and brought right into the story. It's fantastic in the way it is done.
Chapter sixteen, The Battle of Ice and Water, might just be one of the finest chapters of children's literature ever written. The whole book is great, but this chapter positively glows as if the words had just been freshly etched with a white-hot needle. Oliver's plan for the final climactic battle needs reading a couple of times, but you'll experience the same "Oh, YES I get it!" feeling that his friend Charlie experiences as Oliver outlines the plan to Charlie, Neige and their friends. It's a heck of a way to set up the final battle.
French history is also well-referenced, with a group of famous French poets, artists and even a famous soothsayer being critical to the resolution of the war of windows and mirrors.
The only slight qualm I had with this book is that, at times, the author tends to be a bit condescending. In no way is it enough to detract from the story, but I did catch myself thinking that the editor could've done with one less late night and one more cup of coffee.
Overall, though, The King in the Window is a cracking story about a boy who suddenly becomes a king and has to save more than just the world. Highly recommended.
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by Adam Gopnik
(Miramax Books, 2005)
I once knew a girl who grew up in Marin County and whose mother knew Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, and (so the story goes) occasionally he would babysit for them and tell bedtime stories. I imagine that being author Adam Gopnik's son would be a bit like that, having a singular creative intelligence at your beck and call, weaving stories that no one else can hear... Until, now that is: this childrens fantasy book is clearly based on stories that Gopnik - an essayist for the "New Yorker" magazine - wove for his son while on a multi-year assignment in France. The hero, Oliver Parker, is a twelve-year old American boy who has spent most of his life growing up in Paris with his (cough, cough) newspaper-writer father and cheerful, athletically-inclined mom.
In a dense epic that weaves in echoes of "Peter Pan," "Alice In Wonderland" and that creepy '80s movie with David Bowie in it, "Labyrinth," Gopnik tells a tale of an alternate world of mirror and window reflections at war with each other, and a sinister force inside of mirrors that steals the souls of those who are overly vain. The soul-stealing theme is a bit intense, and genuinely creepy, and like some of the book's more complex concepts, isn't entirely translated from the adult imagination into smooth-enough prose that would be accessible to most children. Indeed, although I found many passages captivating, I was surprised at how earthen and lumpy Gopnik's prose was here... I admire him greatly as a writer and humorist, but found much of this book had a fairly mechanical feel to it - paragraphs often seemed repetitive and circular and I was surprised at how often a stylist for the New Yorker would reuse the same words and phrases in such close proximity (in one short paragraph the word "light" is repeated seven times - do they not have thesauri in France?) Also, the book could have been about a fifth shorter than it was - sometimes it got a bit too wordy.
Still, this is an imaginative and intelligent fantasy adventure, and I would recommend it for families of a certain intellectual, egghead-y bent. It's not the greatest kid's book ever, but it's certainly not the worst. Worth checking out. (Joe Sixpack, ReadThatAgain childrens book reviews)
Oliver Parker is a twelve-year-old American boy living in Paris. Contrasts between America and France are very convincingly portrayed through Oliver's eyes and through comments from his parents and teachers. Life is hard. School is serious. And language arts, taught in a foreign language, give heavy devoirs (homework). But that's not Oliver's only problem. There's the fact that his father, once loving and deeply involved in his life, now seems to grow ever more distant. There's the row he had with a girl called Neige downstairs. There's the American friend who's too far away to be any help, but thanks to computers and wi-fi hotspots is near enough to talk to. And there's the strange character who looks out from a window when Oliver incautiously, and childishly, persists in wearing a paper crown after Epiphany celebrations.
This novel has all the charm and intriguing word-play of Alice, the solid world-building and modern-day outlook of Harry Potter, the foreign mystique of the Little Prince, and a wonderful combination of imagination, allegory and science. Exciting, innocent, esoterically clever and solidly down-to-earth, the result is a book that draws adults in just as surely as children, leaving the reader just slightly the wiser, pleasantly confused, and with a whole new wonderful outlook on windows and mirrors.
Disclosure: A friend's grandson recommended this book and I loved it!